A group of international astronauts launches on the third commercial trip to the space station operated by a Houston-based company.

A group of international astronauts launches on the third commercial trip to the space station operated by a Houston-based company.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched on Thursday carrying the most diverse crew to ever visit the International Space Station. This mission, planned and trained for over several months, will last for two weeks and is the third fully commercial flight to the orbital outpost.

Retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría and Italian co-pilot Walter Villadei were monitoring the cockpit displays while Turkish flight engineer Alper Gezeravci and Sweden’s Marcus Wandt were situated on the left and right sides. At 4:49 p.m. EST, the Falcon 9 launched from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center with a powerful burst of flaming exhaust.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

A team of four astronauts blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, successfully reaching orbit. The crew is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station on Friday morning for a two-week research expedition.

Adam Bernstein/Spaceflight Now

The launch 

The original plan was for Wednesday.

However, SpaceX has requested a 24-hour postponement in order to conduct a thorough review of the work being done to resolve a possible issue with the parachutes on the Crew Dragon capsule.

Soyuz MS-24/70S commander Oleg Kononenko and his two crewmates, Nikolai Chub and NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara, along with NASA Crew-7

Jasmin Moghbeli, a commander, along with astronaut Andreas Mogensen from the European Space Agency, flier Satoshi Furukawa from Japan, and cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov.

López-Alegría, a highly skilled astronaut from the United States, is 65 years old and holds citizenship in both the US and Spain. He has been on five space missions and completed 10 spacewalks. Currently serving as chief astronaut at Axiom Space in Houston, he led the company’s inaugural commercial journey to the ISS, known as Ax-1, in 2022.

When questioned about his intentions to retire his spacesuit following the Ax-3 mission, López-Alegría responded with a smile, stating that he will continue to fly for as long as he is permitted.


The crew of Ax-3 takes photos during their training at the headquarters of SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. From left to right: Walter Villadei from Italy, Marcus Wandt from Sweden (a European Space Agency astronaut), retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, and Alper Gezeravci from Turkey.

Axiom Space

“It’s a dream come true,” he said to CBS News. “I am willing to keep flying as long as my soul and body allow. But in all seriousness, it is truly an honor for someone like me to have the opportunity to return to space, and to lead this highly prepared and skilled group. It never gets tiring.”

have been finalized

The mission’s plans have been completed.

While aboard the station, the Ax-3 crew will conduct over 30 experiments in microgravity, primarily provided by Italy, in order to gain a better understanding of how weightlessness affects different physical and cognitive factors.

Axiom reported that Barilla, an Italian company, has created pre-made pasta that can be heated and tasted in order to expand the variety of delicious foods available for future space travelers.

Additional studies involve exploring the potential of telemedicine for assessing the well-being of astronauts in outer space, trials of a “smart flight suit” aimed at enhancing astronaut comfort and monitoring medical information, and a separate endeavor to examine materials with improved capabilities for protecting astronauts from space radiation.

After finishing the experiments, López-Alegría and his fellow crew members will return to the Crew Dragon and detach from the space station on February 3rd. They will then experience a fiery descent back to Earth and land in the ocean near Florida.

NASA has endorsed the Axiom flights in an effort to promote private-sector growth in low-Earth orbit. The organization is utilizing “private astronaut missions,” known as PAMs, as a means of gaining expertise in orbital operations before deploying its own space station components in the near future.

Both SpaceX and Axiom have not disclosed the cost of the Ax-3 flight or the amount paid by Italy, Sweden, and Turkey for their representatives to be on board. However, it is believed that commercial seats have a price tag of more than $50 million each.


The team of Ax-3 takes a break in a Crew Dragon simulation as part of their training. From left to right: Marcus Wandt, co-pilot Walter Villadei, commander Michael López-Alegría, and Turkish pilot Alper Gezeravci.

Axiom Space

Axiom’s first two PAM missions featured a mix of private citizens and state-sponsored researchers, including two Saudis. For the third flight, all three passengers are sponsored by their respective countries.

Villadei, 49, is a father of three with a master’s in aerospace engineering and a veteran Italian air force flight engineer. Last June, he completed an up-and-down sub-orbital flight aboard Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceplane to carry out Italian-sponsored microgravity research. Ax-3 is his first trip to orbit.

He expressed that this mission holds great significance for Italy, as it is a crucial component of their national space plan. It presents a chance to unite industries and the scientific community in a new era of space exploration, specifically focused on commercial space travel. He eagerly anticipates conducting the experiments that have been planned and sees it as a tremendous opportunity.

Gezeravci, who is 44 years old, has a wealth of experience as a Turkish F-16 fighter pilot and wing commander. Prior to this, he served as a captain for Turkish Airlines for a period of seven years. He is set to make history as Turkey’s inaugural astronaut.

I am honored to be the first person from my country, Turkey, to venture into space,” he stated. “This mission not only represents humanity’s exploration of Earth, but also our dedication to advancing scientific research and progress.”

Wandt, age 43, is a father of three and holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering. He has a background as a fighter pilot in the military, having graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. He is also a member of the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps, and was the first to participate in a commercial space mission. Additionally, he is the founder of a company that provides training for fighter pilots.

“I am honored to contribute to the development of a new method for Europe to enter space and enhance the frequency and representation of both European presence and scientific advancements.”

Axiom Space is currently working on a module that will be connected to the International Space Station in the coming years. This module will act as a stepping stone towards a separate commercial space station.

López-Alegría’s mission, Ax-3, is considered a crucial progression in the development of Axiom’s privately-owned space station. This station will serve as a hub for both government and private astronauts and researchers once the International Space Station is decommissioned in the coming years, following in the footsteps of the previous Ax-1 and Ax-2 flights.

López-Alegría explained, “These are referred to as precursor missions. Our goal is to establish the necessary procedures and operational structure within the company to support future human spaceflight missions.”

Our goal is for the commercial space station to become a popular destination for not just current ISS users, but also for a wide range of individuals including researchers and people from various countries.



Source: cbsnews.com